Notes & Commentary:
Ver. 1. Aaron. God shews him this honour after his consecration, though not always. See chap. xii. and xvii., &c. (Worthington)
Ver. 2. Animals which you are to eat, &c. The prohibition of so many kinds of beasts, birds, and fishes, in the law, was ordered, 1. to exercise the people in obedience and temperance; 2. to restrain them from the vices of which these animals were symbols; 3. because the things here forbidden were for the most part unwholesome, and not proper to be eaten; 4. that the people of God, by being obliged to abstain from things corporally unclean, might be trained up to seek a spiritual cleanness. (Challoner) — These animals had no natural uncleanness: for all things are clean to the clean, Titus i. 15. But they were looked upon as such by the prejudice of the people, and many of them possessed noxious qualities. If they had been the most excellent, the will of God is a sufficient reason to enforce the duty of abstinence; (Calmet) as it was in the case of Adam and Eve. As some animals were adored, and others were deemed unclean by the Gentiles, the Hebrews were commanded to sacrifice some of the former description, and to abhor also the latter, that they might never be so foolish, as to imitate the perversity of the nations, in looking upon any animal as a god. (Theod., q. 11.) St. Thomas Aquinas (i. 2. q. 102. a. 6,) explains at large, out of the holy fathers, the different vices, which the unclean animals represent. (Worthington) — By the distinction of these creatures, God would have his people known, chap. xx. 24, 26. Those who chose rather to die than to transgress in this point, are justly honoured by the Church as martyrs, 2 Machabees vi. and vii. (St. Gregory, or. 20.) (Haydock)
Ver. 3. Hoof divided, and cheweth the cud. The dividing the hoof, and chewing the cud, signify discretion between good and evil, and meditating on the law of God: and where either of these is wanting, a man is unclean. In like manner, fishes were reputed unclean that had not fins and scales: that is, souls that did not raise themselves up by prayer, and cover themselves with the scales of virtues, (Challoner) particularly of mortification and penance. (Worthington)
Ver. 4. Camel, which hath a hard skin connecting its hoof below. The Arabs and Persians eat its flesh. God will have his people keep at a distance from imitating them; and that is one of the reasons for this and similar precepts. (Calmet)
Ver. 5. The cherogrillus. Some suppose it to be the rabbit, others the hedgehog: St. Jerome intimates that it is another kind of animal common in Palestine, which lives in the holes of rocks, or in the earth. We choose here, as also in the names of several other creatures that follow, (which are little known in this part of the world) to keep the Greek or Latin names. (Challoner) — Bochart (Hierozoicon) may be consulted on this subject. He supposes, that the Hebrew shaphan, denotes the Arabian rat called aliarbuho. But the Jews themselves are ignorant of many of these animals. (Calmet) — Both choiros and grullos, signify swine. The porcupine, or the bear-mouse of Palestine, may be meant. (Menochius)
Ver. 6. Cheweth. Some copies of the Septuagint add not, which agrees with the nature of the hare; though the people to whom Moses addresses himself were of a different persuasion. Its hoof is not divided into two parts only, and therefore it is accounted unclean.
Ver. 7. Swine. This animal was abhorred by many other nations. If an Egyptian happened to touch one, he plunged into the Nile. (Herodotus ii. 47.) Few are to be seen in the East. Yet the people of Crete and of Samos held swine in veneration; and they were offered in sacrifice to Venus, by the Cyprians. They seem designed for slaughter, as they are good for nothing alive. They are very subject to leprosy. (Calmet) — The Jews would hardly name them, but called them “the beast.” Old Eleazer was strongly instigated to pretend at least to eat swine’s flesh, but preferred a painful death before the transgression of God’s law, 2 Machabees vi. 18. (Haydock)
Ver. 8. Carcasses. They might be touched while alive, ver. 24.
Ver. 9. Eat. The Egyptians, and the priests of the Syrian goddess, abstained from fish. — Pools. Hebrew and Septuagint torrents. (Calmet) — Eels are prohibited, &c. (Menochius)
Ver. 10. Scales. Numa forbade fish without scales to be used in the sacred feasts. (Pliny, [Natural History?] xxxii. 2.)
Ver. 13. The griffon. Not the monster which the painters represent, which has no being upon earth; but a bird of the eagle kind, larger than the common. (Challoner) — Osprey. The sea or black eagle, which is very clear-sighted, and expert in catching fish. Pliny relates, (B. x. 3,) that it tries its young by making them look at the sun, and hurls them down if they refuse. But this seems fabulous.
Ver. 16. Ostrich; which was served up at the tables of the Persian kings. Hebrew, “the daughter of the hiena;” (both êiáne) or the swan, Isaias xiii. 21. — Owl, or perhaps the male ostrich, which cruelly abandons its young. — Larus, the water-hen. (Calmet) — Some have the cuckow. (Haydock)
Ver. 17. Owl, or the onocrotalus, which makes a hideous noise like an assibis, a bird adored in Egypt. Bochart takes the Hebrew to mean an owl, as well as the following term, swan, (Calmet) which is not probable.
Ver. 18. Bittern, onocrotalum. See ver. 17. Protestant version has “pelican and the gier-eagle,” for porphyrion. (Haydock) — Its beak and long legs are red. (Pliny, [Natural History?] x. 46.) Bochart understands the vulture, and the Samaritan version the pelican; both of which are remarkable for the care they take of their young. Réme may be derived from rém, “mercy.”
Ver. 19. Heron, or “stork,” noted for the same quality: chasida, means “piety.” — Charadrion, a kind of heron, (Calmet) mentioned by Aristotle, viii. 3. It is found in deep holes and rocks. (Menochius) — Some translate parrot, peacock, kite, &c. Anapha,may denote a bird easily vexed. (Calmet) — Houp, or lapwing. (Haydock) — Bat. Strabo (xvii.) speaks of some very large, which were salted and eaten at Borsippe.
Ver. 20. Feet. Such as bees, (Calmet) and other insects of which he speaks. (Menochius)
Ver. 21. Walketh. Hebrew adds lo, “not.” But the Massorets read lu, “to it,” agreeably to the Vulgate. (Calmet) — Protestant version, “Yet these may ye eat, of every flying creeping thing that goeth upon all four, which have legs above their feet, to leap withal upon the earth.”
Ver. 22. Locust. The three former are species of the same kind. The bruchus is a young locust, without wings, (St. Augustine in Psal. civ.,) and the attachus the least of all. (Pliny, xxix. 5.) The ophiomachus is large, “encounters serpents,” and is destitute of wings. The nations called Acridophagi, received their name from their feeding upon locusts, which are the food of the common people in Syria and Africa. See Pliny, xi. 29, &c. Clenard, in 1541, wrote from Fez, that he had seen the sky darkened with clouds of locusts, which the people endeavoured presently to destroy, and filled waggons with their bodies, for food. Kirsten says, they are very delicious. Arnulph assures us, that they are a finger’s breadth, and are fried in oil by the poor. (Raban. in Matthew iii. 4.) See Joel ii. (Calmet) — There is no need, therefore, of having recourse to crab fish and wild pears, for John the Baptist’s food, as Beza has done. (Tirinus)
Ver. 23. Only. Equal in length, ver. 20-21. (Menochius)
Ver. 24. Evening. If he were guilty of sin in so doing, contrition would be necessary to regain God’s favour. (Worthington) — But the legal uncleanness would not be removed till the evening; as the one might subsist while the other was remitted. (Haydock)
Ver. 25. Necessary. To prevent the obstruction of the road, or the infection of the air. (Menochius) — When any person touched these carcasses, he was obliged to wash his clothes immediately, and still to refrain from touching any thing sacred till sun-set. (Estius) — If a dog chanced to die in the house of an Egyptian, all the family shaved their hair and began to mourn. The food and wine in the house could no longer be used. (Eusebius, præp. ii. 1.) They adored the dog. But other nations, which did not adore animals, esteemed those unworthy of sacred things who had touched a carcass, though they invoked their gods by slaying beasts, as Porphyrius remarks. (Eusebius, præp. v. 10.) They put off their shoes when they enter certain temples, for the same reason. Scortea non ulli fas est inferre sacello—ne violent puros exanimata Deos.
Ver. 26. It. When dead. It was lawful to ride on a camel, but not to eat its flesh.
Ver. 27. Hands. Like a monkey, frog, &c., the fore-feet of which rather resemble hands.
Ver. 29. Weasel. Bochart understands the mole, in opposition to all the versions: choled, means indeed “to root up the earth.” (Calmet)
Ver. 30. Chameleon, feeds upon air, and assumes various colours. (Pliny viii. 33.) It resembles a lizard, as does the stellio, Pliny xxix. 4. — Lizard. Protestants, “snail.” (Haydock)
Ver. 30.[31.?] Unclean, either to eat or touch, ver. 41-43. (Chap. v. 2.)
Ver. 33. Broken. See chap. vi. 28, where a similar injunction is given. (Menochius) — And (ver. 35,) ovens and pots, made of earthenware, according to Pollux, are to be destroyed. (Tirinus)
Ver. 34. Water, unclean, or in a polluted vessel.
Ver. 36. Clean. They would be so difficult to purify, and water is so necessary.
Ver. 38. Defiled, and given to the beasts. (Menochius)
Ver. 39. Beast die a natural death, or be suffocated, or be slain by a wild beast. (Calmet)
Ver. 40. Clothes, and his whole body, either together or separate, as the Rabbins explain the law. (Selden, syn. i. 3.) If any one eat or touch these things, on purpose, he was liable to a more severe punishment, (Menochius) and his soul was defiled by disobedience, ver. 43. (Calmet)
Ver. 42. Abominable. Serpents, worms, and reptiles are proscribed. (Menochius)
Ver. 44. Holy, and detest the uncleanness of the Gentiles, in their sacrifices and feasts. (St. Augustine, City of God vi. 7.)
Ver. 45. Your God. By these laws, the Jews were to be distinguished from other nations. (Haydock) — They were also to be reminded, that God was very jealous of their interior sanctity, since he required so great a legal purity. Without the former, they might easily conclude that the latter would not please him. (Calmet)
Bible Text & Cross-references:
The distinction of clean and unclean animals.
1 And the Lord spoke *to Moses and Aaron, saying:
2 Say to the children of Israel:* These are the animals which you are to eat of all the living things of the earth.
3 Whatsoever hath the hoof divided, and cheweth the cud among the beasts you shall eat.
4 But whatsoever cheweth indeed the cud, and hath a hoof, but divideth it not, as the camel and others, that you shall not eat, but shall reckon it among the unclean.
5 The cherogrillus which cheweth the cud, but divideth not the hoof, is unclean.
6 The hare also: for that too cheweth the cud, but divideth not the hoof.
7 *And the swine, which, though it divideth the hoof, cheweth not the cud.
8 The flesh of these you shall not eat, nor shall you touch their carcasses, because they are unclean to you.
9 These are the things that breed in the waters, and which it is lawful to eat. All that hath fins, and scales, as well in the sea, as in the rivers, and the pools, you shall eat.
10 But whatsoever hath not fins and scales, of those things that move and live in the waters, shall be an abomination unto you,
11 And detestable: their flesh you shall not eat, and their carcasses you shall avoid.
12 All that have not fins and scales, in the waters, shall be unclean.
13 Of birds these are they which you must not eat, and which are to be avoided by you: The eagle, and the griffon, and the osprey,
14 And the kite, and the vulture, according to their kind.
15 And all that is of the raven kind, according to their likeness.
16 The ostrich, and the owl, and the larus, and the hawk according to its kind.
17 The screech-owl, and the cormorant, and the ibis,
18 And the swan, and the bittern, and the porphyrion,
19 The heron, and the charadrion according to its kind, the houp also, and the bat.
20 Of things that fly, whatsoever goeth upon four feet, shall be abominable to you.
21 But whatsoever walketh upon four feet, but hath the legs behind longer, wherewith it hoppeth upon the earth,
22 That you shall eat, as the bruchus in its kind, the attachus, and the ophiomachus, and the locust, every one according to their kind.
23 But of flying things, whatsoever hath four feet only, shall be an abomination to you:
24 And whosoever shall touch the carcasses of them, shall be defiled, and shall be unclean until the evening:
25 And if it be necessary that he carry any of these things when they are dead, he shall wash his clothes, and shall be unclean until the sun set.
26 Every beast that hath a hoof, but divideth it not, nor cheweth the cud, shall be unclean: and he that toucheth it shall be defiled.
27 That which walketh upon hands, of all animals which go on all four, shall be unclean: he that shall touch their carcasses shall be defiled until evening.
28 And he that shall carry such carcasses, shall wash his clothes, and shall be unclean until evening; because all these things are unclean to you.
29 These also shall be reckoned among unclean things, of all that move upon the earth, the weasel, and the mouse, and the crocodile, every one according to their kind:
30 The shrew, and the chameleon, and the stellio, and the lizard, and the mole:
31 All these are unclean. He that toucheth their carcasses shall be unclean until the evening.
32 And upon what thing soever any of their carcasses shall fall, it shall be defiled, whether it be a vessel of wood, or a garment, or skins or hair-cloths; or any thing in which work is done, they shall be dipped in water, and shall be unclean until the evening, and so afterwards shall be clean.
33 But an earthen vessel, into which any of these shall fall, shall be defiled, and therefore is to be broken.
34 Any meat which you eat, if water from such a vessel be poured upon it, shall be unclean; and every liquor that is drunk out of any such vessel, shall be unclean.
35 And upon whatsoever thing any of these dead beasts shall fall, it shall be unclean: whether it be oven, or pots with feet, they shall be destroyed, and shall be unclean.
36 But fountains and cisterns, and all gatherings together of waters shall be clean. He that toucheth their carcasses shall be defiled.
37 If it fall upon seed-corn, it shall not defile it.
38 But if any man pour water upon the seed, and afterwards it be touched by the carcasses, it shall be forthwith defiled.
39 If any beast die, of which it is lawful for you to eat, he that toucheth the carcass thereof, shall be unclean until the evening:
40 And he that eateth or carrieth any thing thereof, shall wash his clothes, and shall be unclean until the evening:
41 All that creepeth upon the earth shall be abominable, neither shall it be taken for meat.
42 Whatsoever goeth upon the breast on four feet, or hath many feet, or traileth on the earth, you shall not eat, because it is abominable.
43 Do not defile your souls, nor touch aught thereof, lest you be unclean.
44 For I am the Lord your God:* be holy, because I am holy. Defile not your souls by any creeping thing, that moveth upon the earth.
45 For I am the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that I might be your God.
46 You shall be holy, because I am holy. This is the law of beasts and fowls, and of every living creature that moveth in the waters, and creepeth on the earth.
47 That you may know the differences of the clean and unclean, and know what you ought to eat and what to refuse.
1: Year of the World 2514, Year before Christ 1490.
2: Deuteronomy xiv. 3.
7: 2 Machabees vi. 18.
44: 1 Peter i. 16.